10 Sea Cucumber Facts
1. Sea cucumbers are not a vegetable, but an invertebrate (animal without a backbone). They are like a squishy leather-like terrestrial cucumber with a mouth on one end and an anus on the other. They breathe through their anus(!)
2. There are 1,200 known species of sea cucumbers. Sea cucumbers come in many colors, including orange, red, and brown.
3. Sea cucumbers are echinoderms and are related to sea urchins and sea stars.
4. They are abundant on coral reefs, one per square meter on un-fished reefs. Below 15,000 feet (the deep sea), they make up 90 percent of life on the seafloor.
5. Small animals sometimes take refuge in the sea cucumber’s rectum!
6. They average 3-12 inches long, but can be as small as 0.75 inches and as long as 6.5 feet.
7. Sea cucumbers are nocturnal and play an important role on a coral reef. *see more below
8. Sea cucumbers have 2 lines of defense. They can shoot out white sticky threads that tangle up any predator. They also can expel their internal organs, which are then regenerated.
9. The larvae (“baby” sea cucumbers) of sea cucumbers are planktonic and float in the ocean currents. The adults are benthic, which means they live on the seafloor.
And our last sea cucumber fact:
10. A sea cucumber can live 5-10 years (if it doesn’t get eaten or fished out as an Asian delicacy).
*Sea cucumbers are scavengers and ingest sand to eat whatever’s “stuck” to it, much like an earthworm ingesting dirt for food. The sand moves through the sea cucumber’s acidic digestive tract. The acid dissolves calcium carbonate from the sand and it is pooped out into the surrounding seawater. Corals use that calcium carbonate to build their skeletons. Calcium carbonate is alkaline (like an antacid) and can buffer acidic seawater. Scientists are studying if sea cucumbers can help mitigate the negative effects of ocean acidification due to climate change. For more on ocean acidification, see Ollie the Octopus and Ocean Acidification Definition
7 Facts You Didn’t Know About Sea Cucumbers
National Geographic page on Sea Cucumbers
National Wildlife Federation’s Page on Sea Cucumbers